Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Wednesday -- My Favorite Things: Laura and Charade

Two of my favorite old films are Laura and Charade. I can watch them over and over again and still enjoy the nuances of the plots, the suspense, the acting. And the style of them, as well.

Laura was made in 1944, during the war, from the novel by Vera Caspery. Simply, it is a black-and-white suspense film, revolving around the murder of a young woman, Laura Hunt, in the New York City of the era. The film starts with the assignment of Detective Mark McPherson to the case; he has come to question Waldo Lydecker, a famous columnist and Laura's friend. The film opens with McPherson (Dana Andrews) waiting on Lydecker (Clifton Webb), as Lydecker watched McPherson from his bathtub.

It turns out McPherson is a kind of cop-hero because of a prior shooting, and Lydecker's favorite hobby is murder. The first part of the film introduces us to the likely suspects, including Laura's aunt Ann Treadwell (Judith Anderson), boyfriend and colleague Shelby Carpenter (Vincent Price), and maid Bessie Clary (Dorothy Adams). McPherson goes to Laura's glamorous single gal apartment, where her portrait hangs over the parlor, and begins to investigate.

This is a well-done romantic suspense melodrama: there are several twists you don't see coming. Gene Tierney plays Laura, and her character of a successful female ad executive is both glamorous and apparently charming, in the initial flashbacks of the film.

I won't say more, because the twists are key, but I will say it is only recently that I did the math within the script: Laura is apparently 17 or 18 when she first meets Waldo, and something like 24 or 25 when she is murdered, but has reached the top of her game through hard work, creativity, and intelligence--no whiff of sex or evil manipulation... interesting choices in that era.

Charade is later, 1963, and stars Audrey Hepburn and Cary Grant. The supporting cast includes Walter Matthau, James Coburn, George Kennedy, and Ned Glass, among others. Certainly I love it because it is shot on location around Paris -- the Theatre du Palais Royale, the Champs Elysees's stamp market, and even in the Metro.

Written by Peter Stone and directed by Stanley Donen, Charade is sharp, witty, funny, and suspenseful. Regina Lampert (Hepburn) comes home frm a vacation in the Alps determined to divorce her husband, but finds instead their apartment stripped to the bone and empty and her husband dead -- pushed off a train. very quickly, she comes to discover that her husband was not who she thought (multiple passposts and murder!), and that three men are chasing her to find the money he has stolen from them (Coburn, Kennedy, and Glass).

Reggie meets Peter (Cary Grant) in the Alps, and then he surfaces again in time to help her find a hotel and pursue her questions about her dead husband. Unfortunately, Grant's identity seems as slippery as her husband's, and Reggie, while attracted (of course!) starts to become fearful of Peter's involvement in the mystery.

Again, no spoilers. The bulk of my enjoyment, beyond the beauties of Paris, comes from the chemistry between Hepburn and Grant, as well as the series of wondeful outfits Hepburn wears, from hats to shoes, throughout the film. Grant seems perfectly comfortable making fun of himself, too, and adding to the suspense.

And both films have themesongs you probably have heard.

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